FORT COLLINS - For the first time since 2015, Deonte Clyburn showed his presence on the defensive side of the ball. The senior linebacker's participation in the opening spring practice marked the culmination of a grueling recovery process from blood clots.
Clyburn missed spring ball last year, as well as the entire 2016 season. The 6-foot, 235-pounder from Kentucky was able to use his redshirt year and prepare for 2017. Needless to say, it's been a long road back for the Colorado State defensive leader.
Said Clyburn: "A lot of times sitting in the practice room last fall, last spring, it was always 'What if?' 'What if I come back, what if I don't?' Today just really solidified the moment. It (today) was surreal. I got to run around a lot. I feel good. I feel lighter, faster. So just the recognition that my teammates gave me and how they have my back right now is an unexplainable feeling."
Head coach Mike Bobo gushed Monday over the news that Clyburn was cleared to return.
“I’m extremely excited for Deonte Clyburn," Bobo said. "I really can’t imagine or comprehend myself of what he’s personally been through the last year. His faith and determination throughout all of this has been remarkable. It’s something a lot of our guys have drawn strength from. Here’s a guy who’s told he’s probably never going to play again. It didn’t set him back, it didn’t cause him to lose faith. Yes, he was discouraged, but he continued to work and be involved with this football team. He continued to be a leader. He was in every meeting, he was at every game. His body looks great, he’s trimmed down and added more muscle.”
It may just be spring ball, but you can bet that Clyburn will appreciate every drill, repetition and scrimmage that the team goes through over the next five weeks.
"When the game is taken away from you out of the blue and they strip it from you, it's kind of hard to take in and it's hard to ever think about not playing again," Clyburn said. "But it gives you that much appreciation. I was just around the game. I really became a student of the game. It really makes you appreciate the game for what it is and how technical and conceptual it is. It gave me a different eye's view of the game."
Defensive coordinator Marty English echoed what Bobo had to say regarding Clyburn's comeback.
“I’m excited because of how much it means to him and what this team means to him," English said. "The fact that he couldn’t play but he was at all the practices, traveled, he was there in spirit for everybody. Now he gets to put his pads back on, be a communicator, be a leader. It’s hugely important to our team because he carries a lot of energy, enthusiasm and all the kind of stuff we’re trying to move forward with.”
It's difficult to fathom how a guy that missed an entire year of football can step in and be instantly viewed as the leader again. But that's exactly how the CSU defense sees Clyburn.
“We keep preaching to everybody how important football has to be to you to extend beyond normal hours that we ask you to do things," English said. "Go do things on your own. He’s that guy. He does that stuff and demands it of his teammates. It says everything that he’s the leader of the defense already.”
The Rams will be tasked without the presence of Kevin Davis, the unquestioned leader of the defense in 2016. While the green and gold lose a key piece in Davis, they now have a player in Clyburn to hopefully fill the void.
“We got a hell of a guy back," said English. "I think that’s a role that (Clyburn) is able to step in there and take back over some of the things that Kevin was doing and help move us forward. I think there are a lot of positives about Deonte as far as leadership and that kind of stuff goes, whereas Kevin was more laid back.”
CSU may once again have an explosive offense in 2017, but the question will be whether the defense can take the next step under the guidance of Clyburn.
"I feel like everything happens for a reason," Clyburn said. "Coming into a defense that supposedly didn't have any experience last year, these guys are hungry. They want to be great. And I feel like I can just add to it."